Am I really in Tokyo? I feel as if I’m stuck in a lucid dream and any day now, I will jolt awake and find myself back in my comfortable Sydney home.
But no, after 3 weeks of (actually) waking up, I am still in Tokyo – alive, surrounded by the bustling Japanese city life and navigating new friendships and a new university. I must say, it really is unbelievable that I’m on exchange. I’ve been dreaming of being an exchange student and living that #animelyfe since I was a kid, and after one whole year of applying for exchange and worrying that along the way an error might happen, I am currently sitting up way past my bedtime in my dorm room.
Living in a dorm, and away from home, is a first for me. It felt like a camp trip at first – the showers and toilets require some walking distance and all the facilities require sharing with many students you don’t know. However, I’ve been really lucky to be roommates with some wonderful people who come from all over the world but chose to go to Japan to further their language skills and to insert themselves fully into another cultural lifestyle.
They say exchange trips make you realise things about yourself that you would never have come to terms with when you’re so comfortable in your hometown. I know, super cliché. But let me tell you this: I never thought I’d get homesick. Like, EVER. Because what is so sad about going on exchange? It’s only for 6 months, and you get complete freedom to sleep when you want, eat what you want, and really tailor your lifestyle to however you desire. After 19 years of living at home you’d think that I would appreciate this newfound independence. I mean, I didn’t even cry at the airport.
But the second I stepped into my new dorm room and saw an unfamiliar bed, a smaller table and different scenery from my window, the enormity of the exchange and how alone I was hit me like how that yellow school bus hit Regina George in Mean Girls. Despite being in a country with a population of approximately 127 million, I felt all alone and spent the rest of the day crying and skyping my mum until I slept.
However, that fleeting loneliness was soon superseded with my roommates, the energetic Tokyo scenery that popped straight out from my anime, and my Japanese friends from Meiji University. I haven’t had the chance to travel outside of Tokyo, but there is more than enough to have an adventure in this city. The balance between modernity and tradition, and nature and metropolis demand the awe of tourists and locals alike.
So far, before school starts I’ve activated my ‘tourist mode’ and have tried to go to all the popular locations on weekdays because walking through touristy Tokyo on a weekend is like trying to wade out of a Tokyo train during rush hour. Not easy.
For example, I’ve tried the best seafood EVER at the famous Tsukiji market – waking up at 5am was so worth it. I’ve also popped over to Little Europe in Jiyugaoka and met some penguin and otter friends at the Sunshine Aquarium.
I’ve also been to an owl café and felt like Harry Potter.
The orientation process here has been quite smooth, although the faculty has given us thick syllabi and spreadsheets for us to look over as we choose our own subjects. However, each student is introduced to a Japanese buddy group if they choose to join one and is also assigned an academic advisor which is great as I know I’ll have people to turn to if I have any questions or concerns.
Aside from the lovely glass architecture, one of the best thing about Meiji University is their cafeteria! A filling and delicious lunch is less than 500yen (roughly $5) which means I am definitely going to be frequently at that place often. Needless to say, I am thrilled to start my school life here in Tokyo. With no regrets or lingering feelings, I will study my hardest and go where my feet and stomach guides me.
Hui Min (Vivian) He
Bachelor of Communication (Public Communication)
Australian Government New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant recipient.
For more information about the UTS Global Exchange program please visit: www.global-exchange.uts.edu.au